By David Graham
They’re back… Along the East coast the American Shad are making their annual run from the oceans to our rivers. For me, this signals the real beginning of the New Year’s fishing season. For the dormant cold-weather angler like myself, the shad run is the prime opportunity to find plenty of action through the colder months until other species become more active in Spring.
For the 7th consecutive year I was fortunate enough to visit the shad run during its peak along the tailrace canal below Lake Moultrie on the Santee Cooper. The massive population of herring available in this area seems to attract an equal number of anglers seeking to capture them by rod and reel. Anglers from all over the state routinely nestle themselves into the heart of the shad run by fancy bass boats, center console rigs outfitted for ocean fishing, simple jon boats, and dedicated kayak anglers. Fisherman can be observed deploying a number of tactics, either trolling, fly fishing, actively spin casting or just letting lures drift naturally in the current. Despite the different tactics deployed by the great variety of anglers, it is the undeniable sporting quality of the shad that brings them from all over the Southeast.
For many anglers, the shad run is the first opportunity of the year to get the gear out and hit the water for fast paced action. Because of the unavoidable proximity to numerous other anglers, conversation is inevitable. Despite the close quarters and lack of privacy, most anglers I’ve encountered during the shad run were nothing but pleasant. From what I have gathered, many are looking to put fish on the table, others look to fill the bait coolers for later in the year, while some (myself included) just put the fish back into the water after a good fight. All of the anglers collectively agree that the shad is just plain fun to catch.
Like its distant cousin, the Tarpon, American Shad will fervently battle to the very end, often times taking flight and leaping several feet out of the water. Most anglers use light tackle with led-head curly tail grubs, but most light tackle used for panfish seems to work fine for the aggressive shad. Because the fish move in large groups, many anglers use sabiki rigs or multiple jigs for the chance of catching more than one fish in a single cast. Catching two fish on the same rig is not uncommon, but successfully landing even one fish can be especially challenging. American Shad can grow in excess of 5 pounds; have disproportional power, unending stamina, and very thin lips. Because of their constant changes in direction, acrobatics and raw strength, anglers often lose nearly as many fish as they catch.
For the last 7 years, the shad run has led me into my best and worst years. Despite the success or failure of any and all subsequent pursuits, the shad run has always been a success and it is the certainty of that success that makes their annual arrival so anticipated year in and year out. Anglers will absolutely positively catch fish during the peak of the shad run. I am not sure if I will be fishing it again this year, but with a few fish under my belt, I am excited for what this New Year will bring.